Denmark will cull its mink population of up to 17 million in an effort to minimise the risk of them re-transmitting a new version of coronavirus to humans.
The nation’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday that the mutated virus in farmed minks could have ‘devastating consequences worldwide’ and action was ‘necessary’.
A report from a government agency that maps the coronavirus in Denmark has shown the mutation has now been found in 12 people in the northern part of the country.
At a press conference the Prime Minister said: ‘We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well.
Denmark will cull all of its farmed minks in an effort to minimise the risk of them re-transmitting a new version of coronavirus to the rest of the population. Pictured: Minks in a fur farm in Gjoel in North Jutland, Denmark
Staff from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency wear protective clothing as they begin culling minks in Gjol, Denmark
Minks are kept in their cages at a farm in Gjoel in North Jutland, Denmark, as the nation prepares to cull all farmed mink
‘The mutated virus in mink may pose a risk to the effectiveness of a future vaccine,’ Frederiksen said, adding that it ‘risks being spread from Denmark to other countries.’
The findings, which have been shared with the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, were based on laboratory tests by the State Serum Institute, the Danish authority dealing with infectious diseases.
The head of WHO’s emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, on Friday called for full-scale scientific investigations of the ‘complex, complex issue’ of humans – outside China – infecting mink which in turn transmitted the virus back to humans.
Denmark is one of the world’s main mink fur exporters, producing an estimated 17 million furs per year.
Kopenhagen Fur, a cooperative of 1,500 Danish breeders, accounts for 40 per cent of the global mink production. Most of its exports go to China and Hong Kong.
According to government estimates, culling the country’s 15 million minks could cost up to 5 billion kroner ($785 million).
National police head Thorkild Fogde said ‘it should happen as soon as possible.’
Denmark’s minister for food, Mogens Jensen, said 207 farms were now infected, up from 41 last month, and the disease has spread to all of the western peninsula of Jutland.
Outbreaks at mink farms have persisted in the Nordic country despite repeated efforts to cull infected animals since June.
The country’s police, army and home guard would be deployed in order to speed up the culling process, Frederiksen said.
An employee from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency arrived to a fur farm in Gjoel
A team from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the Danish Emergency Management Agency wear protective equipment as they cull minks at the farm in Denmark
Denmark is one of the world’s main mink fur exporters, producing an estimated 17 million furs per year. Pictured: A sign in Danish language reads “No access – risk of Covid-19 infection” at a minks farm in Hjorring, in North Jutland, Denmark
Tougher lockdown restrictions and intensified tracing efforts would also be implemented to contain the virus in some areas of Northern Denmark, home to a large number of mink farms, authorities said.
‘The worst case scenario is a new pandemic, starting all over again out of Denmark,’ director at the State Serum Institute, Kare Molbak, said.
‘The new strain showed diminished sensitivity towards antibodies. That’s why we have to take this extremely seriously,’ Molbak added.
Minks have also been culled in the Netherlands and Spain after infections were discovered.
Authorities had registered five cases of the new strain on mink farms and 12 cases in humans.
There are between 15 million and 17 million mink in Denmark, authorities said.